State of the Industry: A view from the president, Landor’s Nick Foley – ‘Ignore esports at your peril’

In conversation with Mumbrella's Dean Carroll, Landor president of South East Asia Pacific and Japan Nick Foley holds forth on favourite campaigns, good and bad clients and how agencies can cope with the challenge of in-housing

Many people suggest the media and marketing industry is in transition at best and managed decline at worst – but what’s your view on the trajectory and how fast the industry is changing? 

“Technology is forcing change on a number of different industries.  Media and marketing are just one of many industries being disrupted. The choice is fairly clear.  Adapt or equip yourself for a systemic deterioration in revenue.”

What is the next big thing coming down the line for the industry whether it’s a technology, market trend or something else entirely?

“I believe we are on the cusp of a new age of brand activism. Recently, this is most apparent on the topic of sustainability. Where a number of governments are failing to take action, savvy marketers are tailoring their respective brands to reflect a more sustainable position. 

“As governments and policy makers suffer from inertia on this matter, expect to see more brands filling the void. Greta Thunberg has given the world a lot to reflect upon.”

Can you explain the obstacles, as you see them, that need to be overcome in order for the industry to move to a better place?

“Be useful to your client. If the value of an agency’s actions are not demonstrably apparent to its clients, then settle in for ongoing fragmentation of your business. Fees are what our clients pay which means the onus is very much upon agencies to deliver genuine value.”

What work or innovation during your tenure are you most proud of and why?

“Back in 2010 one of our clients brought a problem to Landor. Their range of cakes were about to be deleted by the major retailers in Australia. We were given the freedom to create whatever we wanted.

“Our creative team came up with a way of reinvigorating the product. We named it ‘Yummy Tummy Koalas’ with the key variants being ‘Bruce’, ‘Kath’ and ‘Kevin’. Similar product – new brand. The retailers ran with it, the consumers loved it and Landor picked up a Lion at Cannes with it. Problem solved.”

What was the biggest mistake you’ve made in your career, and what did you learn?

“When I was working as a marketing manager at Mars, I tried to remake a TV commercial that had been highly successful in the 1980’s. It was an expensive production and had a significant media component to it.

“My manager at the time thought the idea had lost its saliency, however, he fully supported me and was happy to run with my recommendation. To Mars’ credit, the ad ran. It had reasonable awareness, but didn’t cut through as much as what we expected with younger consumers. Furthermore, the uplift in sales didn’t align with the cost of the campaign.  What did I learn? Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.” 

What is the landmark piece of work by others that was a game-changer for the industry, in your view?

“The Australian tourism campaign (‘Come and say G’day’) by the ad agency Mojo in the 1980’s featuring Paul Hogan, – ‘Put another shrimp on the barbie’.

"Come on, come and say G'day. I'll slip an extra shrimp on the barbie for you" – Australia's tourism ad from 1984. A lot has changed in 30 years! #ThrowbackThursday #TBT #RestaurantAustralia

Posted by Australia.com on Wednesday, 7 January 2015

“Few other tourism campaigns have ever experienced this level of awareness and cut through. Soon after the campaign launched on US television screens, Australia became a must-see destination. Australia as a destination went from No.78 on the most-desired holiday list for Americans to No.7. Arrivals doubled over the first three years and for four years the growth rate was more than 25% annually.

“Paul Hogan’s (AKA Crocodile Dundee) disarming style engaged Americans on a purely emotional level. The campaign enticed holiday makers from around the world to immerse themselves in Australia’s laid back lifestyle. The campaign brilliantly leveraged friendliness, our laconic sense of humour and the rather unique Aussie accent.” 

Given that marketing is an industry designed to create more consumption, can it be considered a force for good in a world of diminishing natural resources?

“It all depends upon what you’re marketing. We’re seeing a considerable shift in consumption habits.  The sharing economy is alive and well which means marketing is now more concentrated on the provision of services than products.

“We’re also seeing a number of progressive brands respond to the tension surround climate change and product waste. Qantas made news earlier this year by launching the world’s first zero waste flight. Kellogg’s are switching to solar power for a number of their manufacturing plants.

“Coca-Cola is making more of its bottles from 100% glass or plastic. These are gradual moves, but they are all designed to place less strain on the planet.”

Is brand purpose a worthwhile goal?

“Yes. For both internal and external audiences, brands need to be clear on what they stand for.  If you don’t have a purpose, you’re blind to millennials.”

If you had to pick one thing that has damaged the industry as a whole, what would it be?

“Every time an agency fails to meet, or exceed, one of its client’s expectations damage is done to our entire industry. Be clear on the terms of engagement with your client and never be afraid to say no – as it sure can avoid a lot of unnecessary problems down the track. Once you’ve agreed to a project, there’s no turning back. So make sure all parties expectations are aligned.”

Do you think scammers should be banned from awards shows when they are caught, just like doping athletes face sporting bans?

“Yes.  It sends a clear message and should swiftly bring about much needed change in the industry.”

What makes for a great client?

“Great clients aren’t transactional.  They’re genuinely interested in building long term partnerships.  Great clients have a clear vision on what they want to do with their brand(s). With time comes trust. Without trust, the relationship will always be flawed. Finally, great clients hire agencies because they want objectivity on the categories they work in.”

What makes for a bad client?

“A lack of mutuality. A climate bereft of freedom to explore ideas. Unrealistic expectations and a dictatorial mindset.” 

Can you outline the opportunities ahead, as you see them, for the industry?

“Right now, a number of clients are endeavouring to bring a number of services in house. It’s an interesting experiment to say the least. With this in mind, the opportunity for those in agencies centres around providing valuable objective advice and moving into more of a consulting space.

“For those firms that can make this shift, and bring creatively appealing ideas to life, the future is looking bright.”

And, conversely, what are the big threats to the industry – whether its consultancies, in-housing, technology or something else entirely?

“The threats to our industry have always been there and will continue to be there in the future. The ability to adapt and pivot to changing circumstances is critical. The advances in technology mean we need to adapt swiftly. Perhaps more so than what was required a decade ago.

“Put simply, though, if you subscribe to the notion that you only get hired when you demonstrate value, I believe there is nothing to fear.” 

Are you paid well, or not enough, by your employer for what you bring to the table?


Looking to industry talent – is it more difficult now to find the right people now than say 10 years ago  – given the pace of technological change – and how do you see this playing out over the next decade?

“The quality of talent is directly proportionate to the health of the economy. We’re currently seeing a number of factors leading to lower levels of growth, globally. The corollary of trade wars, civil unrest, unstable governments and geopolitical tension is being reflected in lower levels of GDP.  Ultimately this pushes up unemployment which then leads to a higher supply of quality talent.” 

Mental health is a taboo topic for the industry, but given the long hours, short deadlines and sometimes unreasonable demands on staff – are you as a leader doing enough to combat the effects of stress within your organisation?

“Anxiety and depression are common across most industries.  When I started working at Mars back in 1993, no one spoke about it.  Today, it’s different. People are more candid when talking about mental health and hopefully this is leading to it being less stigmatised. 

“There’s still a long way to go, but I’m encouraged to see both employers and employees speaking openly on the matter as this is the most effective way to combat the myths about anxiety and depression. We need to let folks know it’s OK to tell someone at work when you’re not in a good place.”

If your children wanted to enter this industry, would you say it was a good idea or a bad idea?

“I tell both of my kids how much I enjoy what I do – well, most of the time.  I work in a creative industry and have the opportunity to be imaginative and playful. When we get it right we can delight a lot of people. If either of my kids wanted to go into this industry, I’d tell them it was a good move.”

I’ve heard industry leaders state that ‘everything will be programmatic soon’. Is that a good or a bad thing – and why?

“Sounds like a blanket statement to me. Nothing is ever that black and white.”

With internet peer reviews now driving the last mile to purchase for consumers, is the traditional marketing funnel dead?

“Not at all. If traditional marketing was dead, I wouldn’t be seeing 30 second TV ads for Google and Amazon on free to air TV.”

How valuable is creativity in the modern industry landscape so dominated by technology and automation?

“I’m not aware of a bot for writing robust copy or generating stunning imagery. Or, put another way – now that everyone has a smartphone, the only thing that counts is ideas.”  

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the rise of artificial intelligence and its effect upon your industry?

“Optimistic. AI is already having a positive impact on the world.  Think medicine, logistics and education. We need to stop being so binary in our views on AI and start to see how it can complement human activity.”

Virtual personal assistants and artificial intelligence – should marketers be scared or view the technology as an opportunity?

“It’s an opportunity for all of us and it will continue to have a gradual, positive effect over time.”

How long will it be before ‘voice’ becomes a force in marketing?

“This is where the smart money is right now. The recent growth in virtual assistants has been exponential. We have only just begun to scratch the surface on what ‘voice’ can do for brands. It’s exciting to see.”  

Esports – is it an opportunity or waste of energy for marketers?

“This looks like it only going to get bigger and bigger. We need to embrace it and see it as a massive new audience. Ignore it at your peril.”

New millennial platforms are emerging like Twitch, TikTok and Snapchat – which of them, if any, will own the future?

“This is like my putting me in a time machine and sending me back to 2005 and asking if Myspace would be bigger than Facebook.  Or, asking me – around the same time – if Blackberry had any cause to worry about an Apple prototype called the ‘iPhone’. It was launched in June 2007, for the record.

“At this current juncture, TikTok seems to be gathering momentum and is popular with teenagers and all other young people who now only use Facebook to keep in touch with their grandparents.”

The Google and Facebook duopoly – do you love or hate it?

“I have no doubt that market forces will ensure new competitors disrupt traditional industry players. Failing that, anti-trust policies by legislators will drive the necessary corrections. Personally, I’m ambivalent when it comes to the current state of Google and Facebook.”

Finally, which international market will lead the way for your industry over the next 50 years and why?

“No idea. 50 years is one hell of a long time. We live in a 24 hour news cycle where a president can be saying one thing one day and something completely different the next. ‘Expect the unexpected’ feels like good advice right now.”


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